1960s >> 1968 >> no-767-july-1968

The Review Column: Robert Kennedy

Robert Kennedy
One of the more remarkable things about the assassination of Robert Kennedy was the emotional identification with the dead man on this side of the Atlantic.

This was more than a matter of sorrow at the Kennedys’ tragic history; it was more than awe at the family’s glamour. Robert Kennedy was mourned as one who stood for the poor and underprivileged, for racial integration and a more humane society. He was venerated as a rich man who cared deeply for the common people.

Was this true or false?

Kennedy was first and foremost a politician—one who drove ruthlessly for the top. It is no new thing, for a man on the march to power to speak up for the underdog; the British Labour government, to give only one example, is full of such people.

This is the true perspective on the famous Kennedy crusade. The simple fact is that they have always played for votes; when Martin Luther King was arrested at a crucial moment in the 1960 election, the late President Kennedy did not judge the matter on grounds of Negro interests but on how many coloured votes he could swing by taking King’s side, and whether they would be enough to make it worth while.

Similarly, Robert Kennedy provoked much hatred— perhaps also that of his alleged assassin—by championing Israeli interests in the Middle East. This was a direct bid for the Jewish vote, both in the Californian primary election and in the vital state of New York which Kennedy represented in the Senate.

The dead man’s record in office is no more sympathetic. In September 1961 he warned that America was prepared to use nuclear weapons. When the Berlin wall went up he favoured a military confrontation with the Russians. As he himself admitted, he was once a hawk over Vietnam.

On these, and many other, issues Robert Kennedy was not on the side of the common man; he was standing strongly for the interests of American capitalism, even if the lives of millions were at stake.

The assassination was a horrible and frightening affair but so is the capitalist system Kennedy stood for. His was just a single life; capitalism has killed millions.

Germs at Porton Down
The recent protests at the Ministry of Defence germ and gas warfare laboratory at Porton Down have had one rather surprising result. As if to show us that there is nothing harmful going on there, the plant will hold a number of open days, when we shall all be able to see as much of what the scientists are up to as the government thinks fit

Perhaps we shall be encouraged to make a day of it— take the family for an outing on a cheap excursion from one of the nationalised transport undertakings, picnic under the shadows of menacingly blank windows, take home a souvenir test tube of anthrax or botulism.

Very few people will be taken in by the open days. When they are shown the vaccines against disease which Porton Down produces, they will probably reflect that such results are inevitable. The laboratory was set up for one primary purpose—research into methods of waging war by administering gas and disease.


At the moment the likelihood is that gas and germ warfare has too may practical difficulties. So, at one time, did the nuclear bomb. We may be sure that Porton Down is working on the problem.


One obvious characteristic of biological warfare is that is would kill people without damaging property. To the capitalist class, who always find the destruction of modern war such a problem, this is a great advantage. It is enough of an incentive to keep the retorts at Porton Down bubbling until they come up with a weapon which can be used—and which will probably defy belief for its horror.


And this—this waste of human knowledge and skill and inventiveness, this preoccupation with the techniques of mass killing—is what modern capitalism has come to.


What a way to celebrate
Even those who have lost their illusions about the TUC must have been surprised at the way that professedly working class body celebrated its centenary last month.


In London, they held a great banquet, which could hardly be called a salute to the memory of the men who suffered so much to establish the right of combination. Even more, the banquet was devoured at the Guildhall which, as much as any building can, stands for the durable fortunes of the British capitalist class.


In the chair was the Lord Mayor of London, who did not come to his office by way of martyrdom but who is elected by a few other very rich men, mainly financiers and merchants.


Along the top table were the Prime Minister and Barbara Castle, both of whom are busily carrying on the anti-working class policies which the Labour government has followed since it took office and which the TUC has never seriously resisted.


Also there were the top representatives of the employers, officials of the Confederation of British Industry like John Davies. With the exception of George Woodcock, this lot were all got up in evening dress and the whole gathering glowed with ribbons and sparkled with jewels and medals.


Of course such an event would not have been complete without the Queen and she also was present; in fact the trade unionists and business men had only a narrow escape from having her husband there as well.


The Queen made a speech—a sort of primary school exercise on the history of the unions, loaded with whitewash about the callous persecution of the early unionists, hinting that it was all a misunderstanding and that the employers were on our side all along.


Anyone who could witness this without actually being sick might have wondered what the Tolpuddle Martyrs and their contemporaries would have made of it all. But the TUC has come a long way in a hundred years, even if it is in a direction never dreamed of by the pioneers.